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Which Network Admins Bring Real IT Value?

There are two ways to judge the value of an IT professional -- specifically, administrators, network engineers and so forth.

The first way is to watch how they handle crises. Anytime something goes wrong is an opportunity to see how well an admin knows the technologies they're working with. In order to troubleshoot and fix something, you need to know how it works, and you need to know how (and from where) to collect diagnostic information. Admins who jump right into the job, start running diagnostic tools and quickly start eliminating possible causes are the ones you want to retain. Pay them a lot, because they're hard to find. Notice that I didn't emphasize how quickly they solve the problem. That's important, but it's largely a function of how quickly they can eliminate potential causes of the problem and narrow in on the one that's causing the issue.

The second way is to see how they handle day-to-day tasks, especially boring and repetitive tasks. Do you have admins who are still clicking next-next-finish in a wizard, for a task they've completed thousands of times before? If so, carefully consider something: Are you actually paying someone to run through a wizard in order to complete day-to-day tasks? Really? Button-clicking is the value they bring to the  team? Only in the Microsoft IT world would someone even considering answering "yes" to those questions. I'm not talking about unusual, once-in-a-while tasks. Even in the Cisco world, the Unix world, the Linux world or the AS/400 world, administrators have to look up syntax or use a GUI for tasks that they perform only rarely. That's the benefit of a GUI: It can walk you through unfamiliar tasks. But for the everyday tasks, you'll find Unix admins in a Bash shell, Linux admins in a Bourne shell, Cisco admins at the IOS command-line and AS/400 operators running CL commands. The value of an admin for day-to-day tasks isn't that they can complete them by clicking a few buttons. The value is in an admin who can automate those tasks from the command-line. Wizards are for end-users, not for experienced IT professionals.

Things are going to start getting harder for "wizard jockeys." While Microsoft isn't going to eliminate GUIs by any stretch of the imagination, those GUIs are going to be less-emphasized, especially for day-to-day tasks. As organizations move select IT assets into hosted platforms (okay, call it "the cloud"), being able to manage via command-line, and able to automate repetitive tasks, is going to become a more crucial skill. I'm betting that Microsoft will eventually drop the GUI on the server OS entirely, making us rely on client-side GUIs and on the command line. Much of Microsoft's future directions are clearly indicated by technologies like Windows Remote Management (WinRM) and Windows PowerShell, which further emphasize the command-line.

It's time to start evaluating your team, educating them on new management techniques (well, new to the Windows world -- everyone else has been using them for decades), and letting them know that "next-next-finish" isn't going to be considered a value-add for very much longer.

Posted by Don Jones on 06/07/2011 at 1:14 PM


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